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[OPINION] Mixed safety signals that may or may not work

I tuned into an interview and heard the lady being interviewed saying: ”If someone asks me the time, I don’t give it to them! There are 54 million other people they can ask, why do they ask me?” My mind twitched. Further conversation introduced her to me as a well-known and respected self-defence instructor.

I have attended one of her workshops and I got tremendous value from it. She knows about victims and she knows about attackers. I learnt from her that you have a few seconds to save your own life and get away. The point of self-defence is to free yourself to run away, not to fight with the attacker. She also told us that 99% of convicted rapists she interviewed said that their victims would not defend themselves.

That was the biggest lesson I learnt, they won’t expect you to defend yourself, therefore you have that window period, of only a few seconds, to do something, say something and distract them from their intention. One lady went on all fours and barked! It sounds crazy but it saved her life as the attacker fled.

As a daughter, a woman and a mother I have always found value in making eye contact with people in general, especially people I think are a little dodgy. I acknowledge them while also working out how I can get away from them fast and confidently. I have seen many women in similar situations avoid eye contact, change their bags to their opposite shoulder, quicken their step or look down. To me, as an unseasoned criminal, it looks like a red flag. It reminds me of the home invader who said he is more intrigued by high walls and electric fencing than deterred by it.

We will all have varied opinions about rights and wrongs in these situations. A truth is that many people are assaulted by people who are not strangers.

Last week we received a school notice reminding our daughters about the importance of greeting. For me it is a life skill, we must see one another and acknowledge each other. If someone asks me the time, I can either give them the time if I know it, or shrug, smile and say, “Sorry I don’t know either” - while always being aware of my surroundings and assuming the person is up to mischief (or perhaps just late).

A first impression is lasting, so when I meet young people who are able to own their space, acknowledge peers and people around them, I see who they are. The opposite is also true.

My children and I run and walk through our neighbourhood; we greet people who walk past us. It makes such a difference. The next time we see them they greet us. The workers who pass us are often surprised and pleasant in their reciprocation. They are walking to work, minding their business, not ours. When they are idle and that feeling grabs your brain and heart, then we choose a different route and make it seamless.

I believe there is a case to be made for learning self-defence and showing up confident and safe in an uncertain and unsafe environment. We are all vulnerable right now, but I can’t imagine that keeping to ourselves and walking around fearful and anxious is going to be a useful survival tactic. Vigilance and awareness of your surroundings, scams, isolated places, distractions from would-be robbers and assailants, we can choose our escape.

When faced with a real danger, there should not be the option of fight, only the wisdom and skill of flight. We must be prepared all the time, not scared all the time.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn